Tuesday, January 31, 2012

enjoy every thing I can enjoy in the here and now.


Edgar Ende.


I have been quite dreamy today and have remembering things from years ago, jobs, friends, places.

It was a nice trip down memory lane, one I thoroughly enjoyed, very pleased with how good my memory is.

Very good, happy my horrible MS has not stolen that too, must be dreadful to lose the ability to think clearly.

If only this nasty disease were not so intrusive, if only if only, no point in thinking like that, it would just have driven me nuts if I had ever thought like that.

Or thought it was not fair, not really useful thinking, not when it’s about a disease like MS.

In 2006 when I was diagnosed I had many thoughts, often desperately upset and panicking, no wonder when MS has no cure, and no perspective of one being found in my lifetime.

The only thing I can do and do is keep cheerful and optimistic and enjoy every thing I can enjoy in the here and now.

Iain Duncan Smith to give families nine months to adapt to benefit cap

Aim is to give people more time to find job or move house
Discretionary fund will help councils ease difficult cases

Patrick Wintour, political editor

Iain Duncan Smith will give families affected by the welfare cap at least nine months to adapt to the loss of work.

The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, will give families affected by the government's £26,000 welfare cap at least nine months to adapt to the loss of benefits, thereby allowing them more time to find a job or move house before the limit is imposed.

It has been suggested that as many as 200,000 people on housing benefits will have to move from areas of high rents as a result of the change, but the government says the actual figure is 67,000.

That number, it is claimed, will be reduced if the cap is not imposed as soon as benefits are claimed, or when the claimant is forced into expensive temporary accommodation.

A discretionary fund will also be available to local authorities to ease difficult cases, and ensure families are not forced to move during critical points in a child's schooling.

It is also expected that Duncan Smith will stress that the Child Support Agency will not charge fees to the lowest income single parents seeking CSA support to extract maintenance payments from absent parents.

The government has not yet set out the level of the fee, but peers voted by an overwhelming 270 to 128 to oppose the principle of a fee.

The concessions are expected to be the only major clarifications from the government's welfare reforms when they are debated by MPs on Wednesday.

Government sources say ministers will seek to overturn seven major amendments to the bill imposed by the Lords in successive rebellions over the past fortnight, including one final revolt on Tuesday, when peers voted by 246-230 against plans to cut payments worth up to £1,400 to families with disabled children.

Labour will resist the coalition's efforts to overturn the amendments, but there is little likelihood that Liberal Democrat MPs will join Labour in substantial numbers on Wednesday, thereby ensuring victory for the government.

The bill, restored to its original form, will then be returned to the Lords in the next few days and peers, especially a critical group of crossbenchers, will have to decide whether to have a trial of strength over the reforms by sticking to their guns.

The government is determined to ensure the bill is on the statute book this month, and intends to tell peers they are not going to win any substantial changes since the measures are necessary to cut the deficit.

It is expected MPs will overturn a move promoted by bishops to exclude child benefit from the welfare cap.

Ministers argue that the removal of child benefit from the cap would favour large families, be regressive and do little to reduce a dependency culture in which it is cheaper to be out of work.

The government will also oppose a welfare cap set at local levels reflecting differing housing costs, an idea promoted by Labour in the past week.

The government will argue that benefit claimants would be drawn to localities where the cap was set higher.

Duncan Smith will also overturn amendments that have removed the requirement to set a time limit of one year on means-tested employment support allowance for cancer sufferers and young people.

The Macmillan Cancer Support charity revealed a YouGov poll showing 72% of those questioned believed there should not be a limit on the amount of time that someone suffering from cancer or its side-effects can receive benefits. This included 65% of Conservative supporters.

Based on the government's figures, the charity estimates 7,000 cancer patients will lose up to £94 a week.

The poll also revealed that 89% agreed that the government had a moral duty to ensure that cancer patients were not pushed into poverty by the welfare cuts.

Monday, January 30, 2012

enjoy going out as much as possible and have fun.

Edgar Ende.


Today happened much quicker than I thought it would, this occurs most weekends, they always end too soon

Last night I was convinced for some hours that it was Saturday after awhile I had to admit it was Sunday.

Funny how that always happened, it must be having been happening ever since I started work in 1969.

Oh well obviously something that just surprises me every week anew, it’s become a joke now which amuses me alot.

This has been a very pleasant Monday, my physiotherapy went well, a good session, but tiring.

 Afterwards I just wanted to take it easy and not do anything much apart from relax and enjoy the day With Richie and the dogs.

It’s become extremely cold; winter seems to be really starting now on February 1st.

Hopefully this winter period is over soon and spring will begin to start soon and I can go out and enjoy outside again.

Which I am really looking forward to very much, this year I intend to enjoy going out as much as possible and have fun.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

makes my life good.

Edgar Ende.


This weekend has been pleasant; I slept well, despite waking up several times during the night, every night

I could sleep on each time which was brilliant, we both can, so glad we are not deprived of sleep.

That would make life really unpleasant, I hate waking Richie, but I can’t keep sleeping because it’s too painful.

Sometimes I try but usually I don’t have the choice, I often wake up calling out in great pain.

Richie is brilliant coming to my rescue each time I call out, I am glad we are together, Richie makes my life good.

Cloning scientists create human brain cells

Scientists in Edinburgh who pioneered cloning have made a technological breakthrough that could pave the way for better medical treatment of mental illnesses and nerve diseases

Robin McKie


The news that Edinburgh scientists had created the world's first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, at the university's Roslin Institute made headlines around the world 16 years ago.

Her birth raised hopes of the creation of a new generation of medicines – with a host of these breakthroughs occurring at laboratories in the university over the following decade.

And now one of the most spectacular has taken place at Edinburgh's Centre for Regenerative Medicine, where scientists have continued to develop the technology used to make Dolly.
In a series of remarkable experiments, they have created brain tissue from patients suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar depression and other mental illnesses.

The work offers spectacular rewards for doctors. From a scrap of skin taken from a patient, they can make neurones genetically identical to those in that person's brain. These brain cells, grown in the laboratory, can then be studied to reveal the neurological secrets of their condition.

"A patient's neurones can tell us a great deal about the psychological conditions that affect them, but you cannot stick a needle in someone's brain and take out its cells," said Professor Charles ffrench-Constant, the centre's director.

"However, we have found a way round that. We can take a skin sample, make stem cells from it and then direct these stem cells to grow into brain cells.

Essentially, we are turning a person's skin cells into brain. We are making cells that were previously inaccessible. And we could do that in future for the liver, the heart and other organs on which it is very difficult to carry out biopsies."

The scientists are concentrating on a range of neurological conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and motor neurone disease.

In addition, work is being carried out on schizophrenia and bipolar depression, two debilitating ailments that are triggered by malfunctions in brain activity.

This latter project is directed by Professor Andrew McIntosh of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, who is working in collaboration with the regenerative medicine centre.

"We are making different types of brain cells out of skin samples from people with schizophrenia and bipolar depression," he said. "Once we have assembled these, we look at standard psychological medicines, such as lithium, to see how they affect these cells in the laboratory.

After that, we can start to screen new medicines. Our lines of brain cells would become testing platforms for
new drugs. We should be able to start that work in a couple of years."

In the past, scientists have studied brain tissue from people with conditions such as schizophrenia, but could only do so once an autopsy had been carried out. "It is very difficult to get primary tissue to study until after a patient has died," added McIntosh.

"Even then, that tissue is affected by whatever killed them and by the impact of the medication they had been taking for their condition, possibly for several decades. So having access to living brain cells is a significant development for the development of drugs for these conditions."

In addition, ffrench-Constant is planning experiments to create brain cells from patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, a disease that occurs when a person's immune system turns on his or her own nerve cells and starts destroying the myelin sheaths that protect the fibres that it uses to communicate with other nerve cells. The condition induces severe debilitation in many cases.

"The problem with MS is that we cannot predict how patients will progress," said ffrench-Constant. "In some, it progresses rapidly.

In others, the damage to the myelin is repaired and they can live quite happily for many years. If we can find out the roots of the difference, we may be able to help patients."

The brain cells that make myelin and wrap it around the fibres of nerve cells are known as oligodendrocytes. "We will take skin samples from MS patients whose condition has progressed quickly and others in whom it is not changing very much.

"Then we will make oligodendrocytes from those samples and see if there is an intrinsic difference between the two sets of patients. In other words, we will see if there is an underlying difference in people's myelin-making cells that explains, when they get MS, why some manage to repair damage to their brain cells and others do not."

Once that mechanism is revealed, the route to developing a new generation of MS drugs could be opened up, he added. "It is only a hypothesis, but it is a very attractive one," said ffrench-Constant. "Crucially, stem cells will be the means of proving it."

The technology involved in this work is a direct offshoot from the science involved in making Dolly the sheep. Dolly showed that adult cells in animals were more flexible than previously thought. This paved the way for research that allows scientists to turn adult cells, such as those found in the skin, into stem cells that can then be converted into any other type of cell found in the human body.

Four basic uses for stem cells have been found: to test the toxicity of drugs; to create tissue for transplanting, for example for Parkinson's disease; to try to boost levels of a patient's own population of stem cells in order to improve their defences against diseases; and to make models of diseases that will lead to the development of new drugs, as is being done with the Edinburgh research on brain cells.

"That is why the stem cell revolution is so important," said ffrench-Constant. "It has so much to offer, not just in the area of creating material for transplants but in areas such as making models of diseases which should then allow you, hopefully, to develop all sorts of new treatments for a condition."

Wheelchair users block Oxford Circus to protest at disability cuts 'We're not scroungers and fakers' say wheelchair protesters.

Peter Walker
The Guardian

Wheelchair users complain that they are seen as an easy target.

Disability activists blocked one of central London's busiest road junctions on Saturday with a line of wheelchair users chained together in the first of a series of promised direct action protests against government welfare cuts.

The demonstration, which brought much of Oxford Circus to a standstill for more than two hours, was the product of an alliance between disabled groups and UK Uncut, which came to prominence by staging similar direct actions against corporations accused of avoiding tax.

Planned cuts to the disability living allowance could see 500,000 disabled people losing money, the charity Mencap has said.

Many of those taking part said they had never before joined a demonstration, let alone taken such direct action, but felt angry at the proposed cuts and the associated rhetoric from ministers and the media.

"The tabloids have created this idea that we're scroungers, or fakers," said Steven Sumpter, 33, who left his home in Evesham, Worcestershire, at 6.30am.

"This has allowed the government to do this [propose the cuts]. Disabled people are seen as a good scapegoat."

Merry Cross from Reading in Berkshire said disabled people needed to join together. "We're seen as quite an easy target," she said. "We don't necessarily live in the same places and we can find it hard to get together. That makes it easy for the government to think they can target us."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

They Are All Preying On Vulnerable people.

Edgar Ende.


I find it quite incredible, but expect that there are other people like Dermot O’Connor claiming they have been able to cure themselves of MS and other diseases.

Dreadful that someone would seek to fool people with progressive diseases which have no cure; but are desperately sought after; what a horrible thing to do.

I am amazed too that Dermot O’Connor claims that at his diagnosis, he was informed he would be in a wheelchair by the end of the year.

I wish that it would be possible to get such a prognosis; on my visits to the neurologists I asked each time if they could tell me what to expect to occur as the next progression.

Neither neurologist would ever give a prognosis; very frustrating, especially as one is a leading world expert in MS, even he can’t say because of the type of disease it is, the prognosis of MS is just to difficult to predict.

People like Dermot O’Connor are always there ready to take advantage of peoples vulnerabilities, and making them, and keeping them, dependent.

Seems to me, to be just like the ‘drug dealers’, the pharmaceutical companies, who like to keep their customers for life.

Once on a drug it’s not easy to stop, while I wish there was a drug that could help me.

I am also glad I am not having to use IV drugs with nasty side effects and no visible benefits, but too scared to stop in case it gets worse.

What I despise is how they are all preying on vulnerable people.

Disability campaigners stage central London protest against welfare reforms

Members of Disabled People Against Cuts and UK Uncut demonstrate against government cuts

Peter Walker

Disability activists and UK Uncut stop traffic for two hours, chaining themselves together across Regent Street in a demonstration against the welfare reform bill Link to this video.

Disability campaigners have blocked one of central London's busiest road junctions with a line of wheelchair users chained together in the first of a series of protests against government welfare cuts.

The demonstration – which brought much of Oxford Circus to a standstill for more than two hours – was the result of an alliance between disabled groups and UK Uncut, which has staged similar protests against corporations accused of avoiding tax.

The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), while UK Uncut provided advice on how to stage an eyecatching, media-friendly event and brought along several of its own supporters.

The direct action began just before midday when a group of wheelchair users lined themselves along the northern edge of Regent Street, blocking traffic in both directions. The wheelchairs were chained together, and then chained to railings on either side of the road.

Within about 20 minutes, with traffic stationary and congestion spilling over into other streets, around 300 people were standing at the junction, chanting, playing drums and waving placards against the welfare reform bill, which is currently going through parliament.

After the road had been blocked for just over an hour, police asked over a loudhailer that the protesters move, which they refused to do. Eventually, at around 2pm, they unchained themselves and left voluntarily.

Planned cuts to the disability living allowance under the bill could see 500,000 disabled people losing money, the charity Mencap said.

Many of the disabled people taking part said they had never before joined a demonstration but felt angry at both the proposed cuts and the associated rhetoric from both ministers and the media.

"The tabloids have created this idea that we're scroungers or fakers," said Steven Sumpter, a 33-year-old who left his home in Evesham, Worcestershire, at 6.30am to join the line of chained-up wheelchair users. "This has allowed the government to do this – I think disabled people are seen as a good scapegoat."

Merry Cross, from Reading, Berkshire, said disabled people needed to work together to get their voices heard.

She said: "We're seen as quite an easy target. We're not a natural community – we don't necessarily live in the same places, and we can find it hard to get together. That makes it easy for the government to think they can target us."

Changes to the disability living allowance were likely mean her losing care assistance at home, Cross said, adding: "I've had it continuously for 20 years and now, when I'm 61, apparently I can cope fine without it. It doesn't make any sense."

Josie, 52, from Hampshire, who asked not to give her full name, said her disablity, which has left her with limited mobility and near-constant pain, was caused by a fall onto a concrete floor at work 10 years ago.

"I was doing three jobs until my accident and I was a keen hill walker," she said. "But with the injuries from the fall I can only work part time. I'm probably going to have to give them up now because the cuts will mean I get less help.

"I've never been on a protest before, but the government's plans make me so angry."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the government remained "absolutely committed to supporting disabled people", spending more than £40bn a year on support.

He said: "Households where someone receives disability living allowance will be exempt from the benefit cap, and we are giving local authorities an additional £190m over four years to ensure vulnerable people are supported through the housing benefit reform, so we are not expecting people to become homeless.

"The introduction of the universal credit, from 2013, will see a simpler and fairer system of support for disabled people.

"More importantly, there will be no cash losers at the point of transition to universal credit, and disabled adults in greatest need and severely disabled children will receive more support than now."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Preying On Vulnerable People.

 Aquis submersis 1919

Max Ernst

On Wednesday I received a mail about someone, called Dermot O’Connor, claiming he had been able to cure himself of MS.

‘’Dermot O’Connor was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of Multiple Sclerosis over fourteen years ago. At the time of his diagnosis, he was informed he would be in a wheelchair by the end of the year. Today, Dermot is symptom free and is in the best health of his life. How did he do it? ‘’

No neurologist would ever give such a diagnosis; they can’t because of the type of disease it is, the prognosis is difficult to predict.

There is no aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis, there are 3 types:
• Relapsing Remitting MS
•  Secondary Progressive MS
•  Primary Progressive MS.

When I looked up Dermot O’Connor, I discovered he had been an international banking consultant, who was diagnosed with MS.

He has now left banking to write books like The Healing Code The Immortality Code, he is endorsed by Paul McKenna, Author and Hypnotherapist who says ‘’Dermot is a gifted healer whose skills enable others to make significant changes in their lives”

He has opened clinics in Dublin and London; he claims success with illnesses ranging from serious conditions such MS, Parkinson's disease to chronic migraine.

His first media appearance was in 2006 in the Daily Mail, a tabloid not known for news, or accuracy they prefer gossip and sensation and innuendo, not facts.

He calls it a very aggressive form of MS, which it does not seem to be, so he is trying to deceive by misusing the term out of context, to lend gravitas to his claim.

Then describes how his first symptom was that he could not talk, I expected to read he could not walk, as I thought he had Primary Progressive MS not what sounds like relapsing remitting ms.

Relapsing Remitting MS can go into remission for years; so presumably he is in remission, I wish him all the best and hope his remission lasts a long time.

What I despise is how he is preying on vulnerable people with his books and clinics by claiming he cured himself of a very aggressive form of MS.

Michael Gove criticised for awarding public funds to organisation he advised.

Education secretary made decision to give taxpayers' money to organisation that he had promoted as an adviser since 2007

•    Rob Evans
•    The Guardian, Friday 27 January 20

Michael Gove personally wrote to the trust confirming that the education department was awarding the money to it.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, awarded £2m of public money to an organisation that he promoted as an adviser for four years.

The education secretary personally made the decision to give taxpayers' money to an organisation to fund better security at Jewish schools. Gove has promoted the Community Security Trust (CST) as an adviser since 2007.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show that Gove personally wrote to the trust confirming that the education department was awarding the money to it. He issued a public statement saying that he had "secured the funding" to the trust.

Richard Benson, the trust's chief executive, replied to Gove twice thanking him for his "personal commitment" to providing the funding. Benson's letter lists Gove as a member of its advisory board, along with more than 50 others.
The minister has taken a strong stand against antisemitism. However, questions are being asked over whether he should have taken any role in awarding the money to the organisation.
David Miller, of the Spinwatch pressure group, which campaigns for greater transparency in politics, said: "It is blindingly obvious that he should have stood aside, as this is a potential conflict of interest. This is another example of transparency rules in the UK being ineffectual and in serious need of overhaul." Miller first drew attention to Gove's advisory work for the trust.

An education department spokesman said: "Officials were aware that the secretary of state was listed as a member of the Community Security Trust's advisory board.

The then permanent secretary was fully content that there was no conflict of interest in the secretary of state making the decision to award the grant."

The spokesman added that the advisory board "has around 55 to 60 members, drawn from a cross-section of society including members of parliament and peers, police, the armed forces, academia and religious and lay leaders of the Jewish community."

"The advisory board is not part of the governance structure of CST and its members have no responsibility for, and play no part in, the day-to-day management of the charity. The advisory board itself does not meet as a separate body."

Recently Gove has come in for criticism over his support for a new royal yacht to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee, while his plan to send a copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country has run into trouble because he has so far been unable to find a philanthropic sponsor for the idea.

Gove made a pledge to give money to improve security at Jewish schools during the 2010 general election campaign, when he was the shadow education minister.

After he gained office, he held a meeting with the trust to "discuss the allocation of the funding".

The department has refused a freedom of information request to make public documents relating to the meeting in July 2010, arguing that it was not in the public interest to do so.

Gove's closest aides are being investigated by a watchdog for allegedly abusing the open government act by conducting official business through private email accounts.

Later in 2010, Gove announced that the money had been awarded to fund extra security guards at 39 Jewish voluntary-aided faith schools in England.

Gove said it was wrong that parents had been paying around £1.6m out of their own pockets to fund the security to protect pupils against antisemitic and racist threats.

All the money is distributed by the trust to the schools which then employ the security guards.

As the trust's role is essentially administrative, none of the money is retained by the trust or pays for any of the trust's work.

The trust, set up in 1994 to physically protect British Jews, says that the number of antisemitic incidents in the country has increased over the past decade.

In its latest annual survey, it says that during 2010 there were 639 antisemitic incidents in the country, of which 58 targeted Jewish schools, schoolchildren or teachers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Daily Trips This Year.

Gunther Gerszo.

Today has been a wonderfully relaxed day, one both of us have very much enjoyed.

Nice to get a day like this, I am beginning to realise that there will be more of theses days, a pleasant prospect.

Also see now that as soon as I get the last few things, only 4 items, then there will be no more regular appointments.

Brilliant, no need to communicate; like right now sometimes several times per week with my case manager.

The appointments have been happening since November 2006, so not surprising to be looking forward to no more appointments.

I love the idea of no regular meetings, feels like finally getting my life back, nice not to have to check whether there were appointments coming up.

 Now the better steering is on the wheelchair we will be able to get around more this year, which is another pleasant perspective.

Could not go further than our neighbourhood in 2011 because the steering for Richie was not good for outside, it was for short distances only, for inside, as it turned out later.

I have already told Richie I want to go to the park to see the spring flowers, the first of what I hope will be

Gunther Gerszo.
 Today has been a wonderfully relaxed day, one both of us have very much enjoyed.

Nice to get a day like this, I am beginning to realise that there will be more of theses days, a pleasant prospect.

Also see now that as soon as I get the last few things, only 4 items, then there will be no more regular appointments.

Brilliant, no need to communicate; like right now sometimes several times per week with my case manager.

The appointments have been happening since November 2006, so not surprising to be looking forward to no more appointments.

I love the idea of no regular meetings, feels like finally getting my life back, nice not to have to check whether there were appointments coming up.

 Now the better steering is on the wheelchair we will be able to get around more this year, which is another pleasant perspective.

Could not go further than our neighbourhood in 2011 because the steering for Richie was not good for outside, it was for short distances only, for inside, as it turned out later.

I have already told Richie I want to go to the park to see the spring flowers, the first of what I hope will be daily trips this year.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Being incontinent.

Sainte-Genevieve Des Bois, 1965
Henri Goetz


Today started very nice and calmly, Richie got me sitting with the big Quattron cushion around me.

Then he got my laptop, I got started right away proof reading and editing yesterdays post which I did not post in the end, because I was too tired.

All went well until I began to feel worried, then anxious so got Richie to get me out of bed and to the toilet.

As I was lifted by the hoist I started to crap in to my pj’s and carried on in the bathroom, and although Richie got me over the toilet I did it on the floor.

Half in my pj’s the rest as soon as Richie had taken my pants off, the movement seemed to trigger it off, shame I didn’t make it to the toilet.

But once I was showered and dressed I felt good again, the trauma of the rapid exit from bed left well behind me.

It best to move on and not let something like that get me down, pointless for me to get worked up by something I can do nothing about.

Being incontinent is really horrible but considering everything else, it is not the worse thing.

Never a favourite having to begin my day like that, but then it’s over and the day can really start

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

that prospect makes me very happy.

Henri Goetz.

Had quite a tiring day, two appointments back to back, both with Maurits, occupational therapist.

The first with Annelies, the council’s mobility advisor/occupational therapist, good to see her again after her maternity leave.

We discussed other types of steering for me to remain able to steer the wheelchair when at home.

Funnily enough Maurits and Annelies are pushing this more than me; we don’t live in such a big place, so nowhere much to go.

With this big wheelchair the only thing I need do is get from bedroom to front room and back, outside Richie steers, which I m ok with.  .

The second appointment was with kees van roekel who will be making better support in bed.

Hopefully I will get the completed bed support in the very near future; it takes one week to make the first shell, then its tweaked and brought here to see if it’s good.

Then I get to try it out and make observations, any adjustments will be made and then it’s finished and I get it.

Basically I will be in a sort of cocoon that will support my torso once more, since being in bed deprived me of my torso muscles.

The main thing for me now is I will be supported in bed, so it will be possible for me to sit well in bed again, that prospect makes me very happy.

Cannabis taxation: a win-win all round, Richard Branson tells MPs


Virgin boss appears before Commons committee to argue for regulation of drug and diversion of resources to crime-fighting

•    Alan Travis, home affairs editor
•    guardian.co.uk

The market for cannabis in Britain should be regulated and taxed, and responsibility for drug policy moved from the Home Office to the health department, Sir Richard Branson has told MPs.

The Virgin Group head said the 20% of police time and £200m spent on giving criminal sentences to 70,000 young people for possession of illegal drugs in Britain each year would be better spent going after the criminal gangs at the centre of the drugs trade.

"It's win-win all round,'' he told the Commons home affairs select committee.

Asked about his personal history of drug use, Branson replied: "I would say 50% of my generation has smoked cannabis. I would say 75% of my children's generation has smoked cannabis … If I was smoking cigarettes, I would be very worried."

He said that in his own Virgin companies he did not think staff who were found to be taking drugs should be dismissed but instead treated as having a problem, and helped.

"There are many people in companies with drink problems or smoking problems," he said.

Branson was part of a global commission on drug policy, which includes five ex-presidents and Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general.

The body concluded last year that the war on drugs had failed and called for experiments in decriminalisation.

He was the first witness at the Commons home affairs inquiry into drug policy.

Branson argued that the policy of switching responsibilty for drug policy from the Home Office to the health department had worked in Portugal, where nobody had been jailed for using or possessing drugs in the last 10 years.

Portugal was the only country that had decriminalised all drugs. As a result of treating drug users rather than imprisoning them, he said, heroin use and heroin-related deaths had fallen by more than 50%.

In Britain, 100,000 young people a year were arrested for drug offences, and 75,000 of them were given criminal records, which meant they had problems in later life in travelling to some countries, he said.

"If next year those 100,000 people are not prosecuted for taking drugs, but they are helped, I think the commission would welcome Britain doing that."

He said if the sale of cannabis and other drugs were regulated and taxed, then the quality of what was being taken could be controlled.

He contrasted the lack of deaths in Portugal with the recent deaths of three teenagers in Britain from taking tablets they wrongly thought were ecstasy, citing the fatalities as an example of the consequences of failing to regulate the illegal market.

The Virgin chief admitted he had not read the UK Home Office drug policy statement, which emphasises diverting drug users from prison, but said the 100,000 arrests each year were evidence the policy was not working in practice.

Pressed by some Conservative MPs on the committee to come down on one side or the other in the debate over methadone maintenance versus abstinence, Branson said he was no expert, and it was for the MPs to establish what worked best.

Monday, January 23, 2012

a good thing to reaffirm.

Valentine Hugo

Felt surprisingly quite good today after a late night; I woke up suddenly in discomfort, due to my pelvis being twisted one way and my torso the other way.

My head was following my pelvis and leaning to the right at an acute angle which was not comfortable as soon as I woke.

It is amazing how much movement my body still has even though I am totally unable to move my body at all. 

Every morning when I wake, I am curious as to where my body has shifted to in the night.

When I was mobile, never sat still for very long, I was always getting up and doing something, usually as soon as I had sat down.

How I wish I could move around again, exercise and be able to feel my muscles working, a great feeling.

I loved going to Th gym, used to go every week, seems incredible now, and almost could be someone else not me.

My life now is so different now; despite everything I am still happy to be alive, a good thing to reaffirm.

Welfare reform: benefits cap would reduce payments by £83 a week

House of Lords to vote on bill that would see 20% of households that fall in criteria lose over £150 weekly.

•    Patrick Wintour, political editor
•    guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 January 2012

A total of 67,000 households – 310,000 individuals – will have their benefits reduced by an average of around £83 per week as a result of the government's benefit cap due to be voted upon by the House of Lordson Monday, according to updated research published by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Nearly 20% of those households losing benefit will lose more than £150 a week.

There will be a transfer from these households of £290m in 2013/14 and £305m in 2014/15. The figures come in an impact assessment published by ministers.

The Labour party has said it supports the principle of a cap, but not the way it is being implemented.
It is the first time the government has published such detailed survey data on the impact of the cap, especially the impact in terms of different regions.

As expected, families in London are worst affected by the cap due to high rents – 54% of affected households are in Greater London. The shares of other English regions are all less than 10%, with the south-east having 9% (6,000) and the north-west 6% (4,000).

Ministers are still looking at transitional arrangements and government sources were stressing it would not be expected that families with children in important stages of their school term, such as exams, would be required to be uprooted.

Such concessions are unlikely to satisfy Liberal Democrat rebel peers, such as Lord Ashdown.

Justifying the cap, the impact assessment states: "Spending on welfare increased by 45% in real terms in the decade to 2009-2010. In that year, the government spent £192bn on welfare payments, compared with £35bn on defence, £50bn on education, and £98bn on health.

"The state can no longer afford to pay people disproportionate amounts in benefit each week in welfare payments, sometimes in excess of what someone in work may take home in wages".

Iain Duncan Smith has defended the government's plans to cap the benefits paid, insisting families would not be "plunged into poverty" as a result of the proposed £26,000 annual limit.

Speaking before Monday's Lords vote on the measures, the work and pensions secretary also denied the £500-a-week cap would lead to an increase in child poverty, adding: "We just don't believe that that's going to happen."

It has emerged that Ashdown will join Church of England bishops and other rebel Lib Dems by voting against the proposals unless greater measures are put in place to ensure children living in poverty are protected.

However, ministers appear determined to ride out the opposition, believing there is strong public support for their plans to curb a "benefits dependency culture" and "make work pay".

Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the plans would not provoke a rise in either child or adult poverty. "Our department does not believe that you can directly apportion poverty to this particular measure," he said.
"At £26,000 a year, it's very difficult to believe that families will be plunged into poverty."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Not Just Yet.

Valentine Hugo


Its lovely getting so much support and friendship from my blog friends, I do appreciate them so very much.

It is brilliant being able to be part of this dynamic interaction of people across the globe, sharing their thoughts.

Brilliant to have this blog so I can have my say, I feel very fortunate to have the ability to access the internet.

Especially without too many restrictions by the Dutch state, this is not the situation for many.

I guess that is why it’s very upsetting to have my failing hand function stop me from writing like I have been able to up to now.

Hate writing only short posts, I am finding it difficult to even write e-mails which is extremely frustrating.

Two comments yesterday by dear friend’s Sherry and Rhapsody helped me quite a lot.

Sherry reminded me’’you are stubborn. I like that about you. =) It keeps you going, that trait of yours. Makes you frustrated at times’’ and rhapsody told me ‘’the challenge is to keep hope alive and the spirit of positivity fuelled’’.

I will keep both in mind, I feel sure that I will try to keep going for  as long as I can and want to, at some point I guess its game over but not just yet.

Costa Concordia captain claims company ordered 'salute' to island.


Francesco Schettino reportedly challenges Costa over cruise collision by saying firm 'planned and wanted' manoeuvre.
•    Tom Kington in Rome
•    guardian.co.uk

The stricken luxury liner Costa Concordia lies off the island of Giglio.

Francesco Schettino, the cruise ship captain accused of steering the Costa Concordia into rocks on the island of Giglio in a reckless bid to "salute" the island, has reportedly said he was ordered to carry out the manoeuvre by ship owner Costa Crociere.

"The salute at Giglio on 13 January was planned and wanted by Costa before the departure from Civitavecchia," Schettino told a judge investigating the collision, according to transcripts leaked to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

At least 12 people died trying to escape from the vessel as it listed on rocks following the collision. Schettino is being held under house arrest accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Schettino said the "salute" should have been carried out a week earlier, but was put off due to bad weather.
He reportedly told the investigating judge that there was "insistence" by the firm on carrying out such manoeuvres, because it was a good way to promote its cruises.

"Costa was aware of the repeated practice of 'saluting' around the world," said Schettino.

The claims appeared to contradict Pier Luigi Foschi, the chief executive of Costa Crociere, who said last week: "I can't exclude that ships have been sailed closer to land on the initiative of some captains without informing us. But I have never been aware of this taking place in an unsafe manner."

He said steering within metres of Giglio on 13 January was "unapproved, unauthorised and unknown to Costa" and pointed to the onboard newspaper, which said the ship would stay five miles off the coast.
Schettino said he had given up-close salutes to the island of Capri and the Sorrento coast near Naples on previous occasions, as well as at Giglio, following the example of another Costa captain.

One US law firm which is preparing legal action on behalf of passengers has said: "It's too easy to say this captain acted alone."

In response to Schettino's latest claims, a spokesman for Costa Crociere said on Sunday: "Costa Crociere will not be commenting on any aspect of the ongoing judicial proceedings."

Schettino also reportedly told the judge, Valeria Montesarchio, that on the night of the collision he discovered some of the equipment which records navigation data was out of order, which could hamper investigators' efforts to reconstruct his route.

The transcript also shows Schettino at odds with Costa's account of the communication between captain and company after the collision.

Foschi has accused Schettino of keeping the firm in the dark about the state of the ship, which was listing as it took on water.

Schettino reportedly told the judge he gave an accurate description of the collision to Costa Crociere official Roberto Ferrarini and told him he would seek to swing the boat around on to rocks by Giglio port.
"Yes, do that," Schettino reports Ferrarini telling him. And when the boat grounded, Ferrarini allegedly said "At this point, more than this … We won't sink any longer."

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Foschi said Schettino had always been considered one of the company's best captains, albeit with a "pronounced ego".

On the island of Giglio, the head of Italy's civil protection agency Franco Gabrielli arrived on Saturday to take over the search for passengers left on board the listed vessel after mounting concern over the duplication of efforts – and the conflicting information given out by – the various police, military and emergency services who have been involved.

Gabrielli may decide that salvage teams can now start working on removing fuel from the vessel even as the hunt for passengers continues, suggesting that the Dutch salvage workers waiting on Giglio could have been sent into action days ago.

Fears are growing that the ship could slip into deeper waters, even though the predicted arrival of bad weather that could disturb the Costa Concordia is now thought to be further off.

Over the weekend, ferries to Giglio from the mainland were filled with tourists keen to see the marooned Costa Concordia. Some of them took picnics on to the rocks overlooking the vessel.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Not Convinced.

Alice Rahon


Yesterday afternoon was horribly frustrating; it was a huge effort but every time no luck.

I just got the cursor laboriously pushed to the right spot, then my little finger would activate keys on the left side of the keyboard, then computer, search and many others would open.

Totally obscuring my writing, so I kept trying and trying, it took me one hour to write one e-mail.

So in order to rescue the evening, and before it did my head in, I had to stop, as it was getting me every down.

I saw no point in getting miserable, tried to cheer myself up saying tomorrow is another new day, with new chances.

Not sure I was convinced, it’s not easy having reality thrust in my face as it was yesterday.

Friday, 20, January, 2012. Tomorrow Is Another New Day With New Chances.

Alice Rahon


Today has been a difficult day for me I can hardly type I think I will finish this in the morning when my index finger will hopefully work.

It was quite an unpleasant experience having so much to say and no way of being able to get my index finger to work.

My other fingers, kept opening up other folders, horribly frustrating; every time I just got the cursor on right spot my little finger would activate computer, search and many others.

Totally obscuring my writing, so in order to rescue the evening I did me had to stop, as it was getting me down.

Tomorrow is another new day, with new chances.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

See What Happens In April.

Toni Del Renzio.

Today started with a phone call from a flower shop who called to say they tried to deliver a bouquet yesterday, but without success.

No wonder they got our number wrong, no surprise we were not found, lucky they could phone. 

The flowers were delivered this morning, they are really lovely, very large bunch of gorgeous red tulips it was Aud, Richie’s sister who sent us this lovely surprise.

A truly delightful surprise, a nice way to start the day today.

The second call was from Welzorg; hilariously they wanted to make an appointment, only it was already made on Monday by my occupational therapist.

Th other thing that happened was I got the date for my court hearing appealing the council’s decision to refuse me air conditioning.

It will be in April, I can be there too which I had not expected, so we will see what happens in April.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gibson inquiry into MI5 and MI6 torture collusion claims abandoned.

Alice Rahon


Ken Clarke promises another judge-led inquiry into claims by two Libyans once police investigations are completed.

•    Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
•    guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 January 2012

Ken Clarke tells the Commons the judge-led inquiry into allegations of British collusion in the torture of detainees is to be abandoned.

The judge-led inquiry into allegations of British collusion in the torture of detainees has been abandoned for the time being, Ken Clarke has announced.

The investigation led by Sir Peter Gibson into the role of MI5 and MI6 officers, which has so far carried out only preparatory research, will publish a short report of its preliminary findings and then close down, the justice secretary told the Commons.

Last week the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police said they would look into claims that the intelligence agencies were involved in the secret rendition of two Libyans back to Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2004.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a commander of anti-Gaddafi forces, and Sami al-Saadi claimed they were tortured after being returned to Libya in a joint US/UK operation.
Clarke told the Commons the new police investigations would have further delayed the start of the Gibson inquiry.

"There now appears no prospect of the Gibson inquiry being able to start in the forseeable future. So following consultations with Sir Peter Gibson we have decided to bring the work of his inquiry to a conclusion," he said.

The inquiry would "provide the government with a report on its preparatory work to date, highlighting particular themes or issues which might be the subject of further examination," the justice secretary said.
"The government is clear that as much of this report as possible will be made public. The government fully intends to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry once all police investigations have concluded."
Clarke said Scotland Yard detectives had taken three years to decide there was insufficient evidence to bring charges in relation to claims by Guantánamo Bay detainees.

[It would would be unreasonable to keep the Gibson inquiry panel waiting for a further unknown period. Any new inquiry "may require a fresh group of people to carry it out", he said.

Many NGOs and civil liberties groups had already declined to participate in the Gibson inquiry because they had grave doubts about its powers and the transparency of its procedures.

Gibson said: "[We] regret the fact that we are not able to complete the task we were asked to do by the prime minister. However, we recognise that it is not practical for the inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations.

"The inquiry has, however, already done a large amount of preliminary work, including the collation of many documents from government departments and the security and intelligence agencies.

We welcome the opportunity to bring together the work we have done to date. The inquiry will therefore produce a report of our work, highlighting themes which might be subject to further examination.
"This task will ensure that the work we have done is not wasted and we hope that it will materially assist the future inquiry that the government intends to establish."

Human rights groups said they hoped the move would mark a rethink of the investigation process.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights watchdog Liberty, said: "We welcome the sensible decision to end the embarrassment of a so-called inquiry in which neither torture victims nor human rights campaigners had faith.

"Let's remember that it was lawyers, journalists and campaigners that uncovered the Libyan rendition files now to be properly investigated by police and prosecutors. Such revelations should lead to more scrutiny of the secret state, not the shutting down of open justice as proposed in the government's current green paper."

Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, said the inquiry "simply did not have the powers or the independence to get to the truth.

We therefore look forward to working with the government to ensure that an inquiry with real clout and real independence is established once these investigations have concluded. This is essential to ensuring that we find out who signed off on Britain's collaboration in some of the worst excesses of the 'war on terror'."

Richard Stein, the head of human rights at law firm Leigh Day & Co, who is representing the two Libyans, said: "It was ill-conceived from the beginning, the government reserved the right for the final say on what material would be published, and did not allow for cross-examination or any other way of testing the evidence from members of the UK security services, which was to be given secretly.

"If there is to be a future inquiry following the police investigations into my clients' allegations, then it must have credibility, allowing the official version of events to be challenged."

The parliamentary intelligence and security committee will meet on Thursday to discuss the implications of the government's decision.

It has already began to investigate MI6's links with Gaddafi's regime, notably the part played by British intelligence officers in the rendition to Tripoli of the two Libyan dissidents in 2004, shortly before Tony Blair visited the dictator.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the committee's chairman, said: "The committee's investigation of the UK's wider intelligence relationship with the Libyans (an issue which did not fall within the scope of the detainee inquiry) will continue."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Visit To The Dentist

A tribute from Till Nowak
for Giuiseppe Archiboldo

Another tiring day today I had to go to the dentist, I booked the mobility bus last night, and for a change booking the trip was easy.

All we had to do, was get up early, Richie got up at 06.00 so he could take the dogs to the park.

Then he came home and showered and dressed me, and got me in the wheelchair finally at 09.30.

Then our friend Cecile arrived to dog sit, Tina rather surprised us by being in heat much earlier than we thought.

Tina has been loud, barking, crying, Cyril cries when Richie goes shopping, and Marleen will join in, we did not want to bother our neighbour with dog concerts.

No problems at home thanks to Cecile.

Sadly nothing happened at the dentist, my broken tooth would take longer to reconstrute properly then my 30 minute appointment.

They put something on and in my broken tooth to stop it hurting; I have 3 appointments for more fun,
14th and 28th of January and 6thMarch.

Because nothing much was done, we were ready to go but it was only 12 noon.

The mobility bus would not collect us until 13.00, although they promise they would collect us before 13, but didn't, they never do.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Syria: Beyond The Wall Of Fear, A State In Slow-Motion Collapse

Georges Malkine

Despite the superficial calm in Damascus, everyone knows change is coming. The only question is, how much will it cost?

Ian Black in Damascus

Members of the Free Syrian Army demonstrate against Bashar al-Assad near Idlib.

Sipping tea in a smoky Damascus cafe, Adnan and his wife, Rima, look ordinary enough: an unobtrusive, thirtysomething couple winding down at the end of the working day in one of the tensest cities in the world.

But like much else in the Syrian capital, they are not what they first seem: normally, he is a software engineer and she a lawyer; now, they are underground activists helping organise the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

It is dangerous work. Over the past 10 months, thousands of Syrians have been killed – perhaps twice the 5,000 figure given by the UN – as Assad has pursued a ruthless crackdown that shows no sign of ending. But his opponents are equally determined to carry on.

Adnan and Rima are unable to work or contact their families. They have false identities. Adnan changes his appearance regularly. He has just shaved off his beard.
It clearly works: a friend at a nearby table fails to recognise him.

Most of their friends are on the run from the Syrian mukhabarat secret police. But where they used to be scared of fighting the regime, now they have become used to it. "The revolution destroyed the wall of fear," he explained.

"At school, we were taught to love the president – Hafez – first. And it didn't get any better when Bashar took over. Now, everything has changed. Assad's picture is defaced everywhere and we are certain that at some point we will topple the regime."

On the face of it, Damascus is calm. The bloodiest frontlines of the revolution may be in Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, but the appearance of normality in the capital is deceptive. Intrigue, fear and anger are just below the surface.

"Damascus is crucial to the survival of the Assad regime," a leading opposition figure told the Guardian. "They will never allow a Tahrir Square here. If Damascus falls, it's all over."

Large protests organised by the tansiqiyat, local co-ordination committees, are held almost nightly in many suburbs, and always on Fridays.

Even in the centre, daytime "flash" demonstrations last for a few minutes and disappear before they are pounced on by security forces, the worst of whom are shabiha louts in army trousers and leather jackets who loiter at junctions and squares.

The demonstrators are ingenious: in one case, volunteer drivers created traffic jams all around the old Hijaz railway station to create a space in which a brief but eyecatching protest could be held.

Creativity and secrecy are crucial. On the first day of Ramadan, loudspeakers concealed in the busy shopping area of Arnous Square blared out the stirring song "Irhal ya Bashar" ("Leave, Bashar").

This is the signature work of Ibrahim Qashoush, who was murdered in July after performing in Hama. His killers cut his throat and carved out his vocal chords.

"At first, people were frightened," said one Damascus resident who had heard the song. But when it was played for a second time, they relaxed. "By the third time, they were laughing," he said.

The speakers were positioned on a roof and the area around them was smeared with oil to make it harder to silence them.

The tactics are effective but risky: one activist accidentally started playing a tape of the song in a taxi but the driver turned out to be a mukhabarat agent, who handed him in.

Jawad, a computer scientist involved in one of these groups, was held for two months and beaten repeatedly to try to make him betray the names of his friends.

Other nonviolent acts have been stunningly symbolic: in August someone poured blood-red dye into the fountain outside the central bank in Saba'a Bahrat Square, the scene of raucous pro-Assad rallies.

Black-ribboned candles have been distributed to commemorate Ghayath Matar, famous for handing out roses to soldiers, who was tortured and killed last September.

"People are taking risks here," said Salma, a human rights worker. "But in Idlib and Homs, it's a matter of life and death; that's not true in Damascus."

Still, some cannot quite believe what they are daring to do. "Look at us," laughed Bassam, a podgy manufacturer in his twenties, "using false names and driving around to avoid police checkpoints. The first time I went to a demonstration, it was frightening. Now it's exhilarating."

Yet no one thinks the revolution will have a happy end any time soon. Last week's speech by Assad, his first public appearance for months, was seen as a declaration of war designed to rally his supporters.

In the live broadcast on state TV, the crowd looked enormous; in fact, a leaked unofficial shot suggested there were probably no more than a few thousand people in Umayyad Square.

Damascus is surrounded by the army's fourth division, commanded by the president's brother Maher. Government buildings are protected by anti-blast barriers.

Roads near the presidential palace and defence ministry are closed. Outside the state security HQ, in Kafr Sousseh, machingun-toting guards look out warily from sandbagged emplacements.

It was there, two days before a cheerless Christmas, that twin suicide bombings killed 44 people and were blamed (20 minutes after the blasts) on al-Qaida – a reminder of the unrelenting official narrative that Syria faces only "armed terrorist gangs", not the mass popular protests that have become an emblematic event of the Arab spring.

On 6 January, terrorists struck again. In nearby al-Midan, an opposition stronghold, there was what looked, at least at first glance, like another suicide attack, which reportedly killed 26 people. But as in the previous bombings, key details remain confused.

Locals spoke of the area being mysteriously cordoned off by police the night before. Many noted the remarkably swift response by the Syrian media and emergency services.

And a rapidly assembled crowd of demonstrators, who were not from the neighbourhood, chanted pro-Assad slogans for journalists bussed in by the ministry of information. Suspicions that the event was somehow staged look reasonable, rather than the product of a febrile conspiracy theory.

Abu Muhammad, a chatty Sunni taxi driver, had no doubt about it. "It was pure theatre, all fabricated," he said. "The idea is to frighten people in Damascus." Nader, a shopkeeper, was even blunter:

"The government knows Syrians don't believe them. But they count on people being too afraid to break the silence."
Hassan Abdel-Azim, leader of the opposition National Co-ordination Committee, who is often criticised for being too close to the regime, admitted that he too had serious doubts about the official version.

On 11 January, the killing of the French TV correspondent Gilles Jacquier by mortar fire during a government-escorted trip to Homs left more troubling questions unanswered.

Was it a warning message to the international media? Official involvement will inevitably be difficult to prove.

What is extraordinary about all these incidents is the automatic assumption of so many Syrians that the regime would act with such murderous duplicity.

"No one has any illusions," said another anti-Assad figure. "People think [the regime] is capable of anything. There are no red lines."

The president's supporters see things very differently. The regime's grand conspiracy narrative, in which the US, the west, Israel and reactionary Arab "agents", led by Qatar, plot against Syria, is pumped out daily by state media.

Its most aggressive exponent is Addounia TV, a satellite channel owned by the wealthy brother-in-law of Maher al-Assad. Above all Addounia loathes the broadcaster al-Jazeera, the Qatari-owned cheerleader for the Arab revolutions, which it has accused of staging fake demonstrations in studio mock-ups of Syrian cities.

In his speech the president referred to 60 TV channels as part of this vast "plot".

Big lies seem to work. "The emir of Qatar is a Jew, worse than the Jews," an Alawite taxi driver raged.

"There are no demonstrations in Syria, or only by people who have been paid, and the terrorist gangs."
No wonder so many Syrians berate the few foreign journalists who are allowed into the country and urge them to "tell the truth like it really is".

Regime loyalists who speak to the international media claim to support political reform and dialogue with the peaceful opposition: these are people like the Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban and Jihad Makdissi, director of information at the foreign ministry, who engages in Twitter debates with supporters of the uprising.

Overthrowing the president, warns Makdissi, "will open a Pandora's box".
But Syria's powerful security chiefs, who are unavailable for briefings or interviews, emphasise the grave danger posed by Salafi extremists or al-Qaida – the same "foreign fighters" the mukhabarat used to help cross into Iraq to fight the Americans.

Stomach-churning pictures showing decapitated bodies or corpses with their eyes gouged out are produced as evidence of the savagery of these terrorists.

Opposition supporters do not claim such horrors are faked but insist the regime bears overwhelming responsibility for the current violence.

"For the Syrian security people, the solution now is to kill until it's all over and wait until there is some change in the position of the west," said a well-connected but despairing businessman.

Assad supporters also accuse the opposition of naivety and of forgetting the early 1980s, when a wave of assassinations and bombings by the Muslim Brotherhood culminated in the Hama uprising, in which government forces killed at least 20,000 people.

But that was 30 years ago: such a draconian "security solution" would be hard to repeat in the age of YouTube – and unlikely to end the uprising.

Sectarianism is also rearing its ugly head, with the opposition blaming the regime for fomenting tensions between Alawites, who dominate the security forces, and the Sunni majority.

In the current climate, it is easily done. Mudar, a young Alawite with close establishment links, tells of a soldier cousin who was killed and mutilated, and then clicks on a high-quality video clip of a bushy-bearded man sawing off the head of his screaming victim.

In an area near the Umayyad mosque, an Alawite woman visiting a Sunni friend said she dare not take a taxi home because a Sunni driver might kidnap her and sell her on to be killed.

Rumblings of concern are audible. Last spring, a group of influential Alawites urged Assad to apologise for the repression and pursue genuine rather than cosmetic reforms.

"Alawites feel their fate is connected to the Assads," warned a veteran opposition leader, "and that is very dangerous."

Pressure is clearly mounting. Alawite businessmen are reported to have been bribing the mukhabarat to avoid releasing their employees to attend pro-regime rallies.

Fadwa Suleiman, an Alawite actress, won huge admiration when she came out in support of the uprising, but she was ostracised and denounced on TV by her brother.

Christians, traditionally loyalists, are worried, too, especially about the Salafi element of the uprising, and the churches keenly demonstrate public support for Assad.

To some, though, it seemed a very mixed blessing when Daoud Rajha, a Greek Orthodox Christian, was appointed army chief of staff, perhaps in an attempt to guarantee the community's support.

Another sign of Syria's deepening crisis is that the state is no longer functioning properly.

It is "collapsing in slow motion", in the words of one expert. Security chiefs are concerned about bribes being demanded to release detainees.

Half the weapons acquired by rebels are estimated to have been sold by army personnel while customs agents look the other way as shipments come in from Lebanon.

Rumours persist of different branches of the secret police shooting at each other on clandestine operations.

And officials are said to have been destroying documents recording off-the-book payments authorised by a phone call from the president's palace.

Syria's economic plight has also deepened in the last few weeks.

Power cuts for several hours a day are now routine.

Shops in the priciest streets of Damascus depend on generators on the pavement. Petrol is in short supply, in part because of massive use by the security forces, and the prices of heating and cooking oil have risen steeply.

This joke illustrates the impact: Abu Fulan – everyman – buys a chicken for dinner. He asks his wife to roast it but she says, 'Sorry, there's no gas'.

Maaleish (never mind), he replies: let's pluck it and put it in the microwave. 'Sorry,' his wife answers, 'there's no electricity either.

' At this point, the chicken miraculously comes to life and squawks: Allah, Souriya, Bashar! ("and that's all you need!")

The punchline slogan is borrowed from Libya, where the propaganda line was that the only thing people needed apart from God and country was Muammar Gaddafi – until his overthrow and murder. It can hardly be a good omen for Assad.

The president was ridiculed for praising the quality of the country's olive oil and wheat – an allusion to self-reliance. Yet even if ordinary people grumble and make do, the macroeconomic outlook is bleak.

Foreign investment and tourism have collapsed. Hotels are empty. US sanctions block most international financial transactions. The EU has stopped oil purchases. Credit cards can no longer be used. And the value of the Syrian pound has been falling steeply.

The regime understands the dangers but its room for manoeuvre is diminishing: when it banned luxury imports, in November, Sunni businessmen protested.

The measure was rescinded a few days later.

It is hardly surprising, then, that all this is taking its toll: doctors report an increase in heart attacks, high blood pressure and other stress-related symptoms.

Pharmacists are doing a brisk trade in anti-depressants.

Two years ago the government introduced a smoking ban, but government offices, cafes and restaurants are still wreathed in clouds of smoke.

People are also drinking more. "Doctors tell you to go and watch some silly Egyptian films – anything except the news," a friend laughed.

Many now have first-hand experience of the apparatus of state repression, and describe details of underground cells, beatings and torture.

It is common knowledge that Iranian security advisers are on hand with their sinister expertise in communications monitoring and riot policing. Damascus feels, and looks, like Tehran in 2009 during protests over the rigging of the presidential election.

"The people who are being arrested now don't have Facebook pages," the economist Raja Abdel-Karim said wryly.

"They don't care about actors, journalists and writers. The effect of the footage of the demonstrations and the killings is far greater than any quote someone like me can come up with."

Abu Ahmad, a middle-aged man who was sacked from his government job, wept as he described being at a funeral in Midan, scene of the last dubious suicide bombing, with his wife and children when the shabiha started shooting.

State media reports only on martyrs among security personnel or regime supporters.

Bodies are returned to families bearing unmistakable signs of torture.

"Perhaps the worst human rights violation committed by the regime against the Syrian people is no time to mourn each martyr, no time to grieve," tweeted the blogger Razan Ghazzawi.

Elements of the anti-Assad opposition are uncomfortable with the "militarisation" of what began as a peaceful uprising inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The expectation is that violence will intensify as the Free Syrian Army, composed largely of defectors, continues to grow.

"If you shoot at people for months, you shouldn't be surprised when they start shooting back," observed one western diplomat.

Overall, Syria's divisions appear to be deepening. "For the last 10 months, millions of people have occupied the middle ground," says Badr, a university lecturer.

"But Assad is leaving us with no choice."

Another joke makes the point well: citizens are being told they must no longer wear grey clothes – only black or white are allowed.

No one can accurately predict how long the uprising will continue.

On the opposition side, optimism of the will is tempered by a sober realisation that in the short term the balance of forces is not in their favour and is unlikely to change quickly – barring a Libyan-style foreign military intervention, which few want and fewer expect.

"Our tomorrow is in our hands," tweeted one supporter of the revolution, "or we will have no tomorrow."

Louay Hussein, an independent, Alawite writer and intellectual, said only a political solution could bring down the regime.

"The crisis is in deadlock," he argued. "All the signs are that we are heading for open-ended civil war.
Assad still has quite a lot of support.

It's not just a question of repression."

The economist Abdel-Karim takes the long view. "I have no doubt the regime will be toppled.

The problem is that the longer it takes, the more powerful the Islamists will become, and those who advocate violence will gain ground. It's a question of time and cost: time is getting shorter but the price is getting higher."

Mouna Ghanem, of the Syrian State-Building Movement, one of very few independent nongovernmental organisations, agrees fully with this gloomy analysis.

"We are happy that there is change," she says. "We thought change would never come to Syria. But we fear what is it going to cost."

Sunday, 15 January 2012. It’s The Anticipation.

Georges Malkine


Well today is much better, although I am still feeling somewhat tired and not my usual self, not at all.

I found that I just felt too slow, so decided to give myself a break and take things easy.

Not surprising I guess seeing as I have not been well, not with my tooth breaking as well as an upset stomach and guts.

A few apprehensive days never knowing if I needed Richie to take me quickly to the toilet before an accident occurred.

Either in bed or in my wheelchair, neither option were favourite, I personally preferred no mishaps and no uneasy feelings.

Just to ensure it was a ‘fun’ Sunday, I took antibiotics last night, so that Richie could replace the supra pubic catheter.

Not my preferred activity, changing my catheter but best to do to avoid UTI- bladder infection.

 It’s something that is vitally important that it’s changed, even though I wanted it done, I still worried how it would go, it went well, it’s the anticipation that’s the worse.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hopfully tomorrow will be even better.

Angel Planells 

Today has been a better day for me, which was a relief for both of us, nice not to be constantly hoisted in and out of my wheelchair and shower chair.

What a relief to not bee feeling nauseous the whole time like yesterday, it was not a pleasant day.

Horrible, I am glad its all over today, I still feel pretty exhausted so will keep this short again for today.

Hopfully tomorrow will be even better.

Why Newt Gingrich's sister says vote Obama

While the Republican goes gunning for gays to boost his hardline GOP credentials, his lesbian activist sister will be rooting for the President.

Can their 'respectful' family bond survive the strain?

Guy Adams The Independent.
As we're sitting down to lunch at a restaurant in Washington DC, a smartly dressed man approaches Candace Gingrich-Jones. "I just wanted to say hello," he announces, cheerfully, "because I know your brother."

Ms Gingrich-Jones has two stock responses to people who greet her in this fashion.

The first, to those who seem friendly, is to politely say how nice it is to make their acquaintance.

The second, to anyone who claims to be among her famous half-sibling's enemies, is to smile archly and respond: "You are not alone!"

This time, given the man's ownership of an array of Republican sartorial props (blazer, tie, sensible haircut and stars-and-stripes lapel badge) she goes with the former.

Ms Gingrich-Jones's half-brother is, of course, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican leader in Congress and would-be presidential candidate who is attempting, with mixed success, to position himself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

The reason for her mixed reactions is that while Newt is among the best-known figures on the right of American politics, Ms Gingrich-Jones is a creature of the left.

She also happens to be a lesbian, a mortal sin in the eyes of mainstream Republicans. And she is also a happy participant in same-sex marriage, something every major GOP candidate, including her own half-brother, would like to see outlawed.

But the biggest sore thumb is Ms Gingrich-Jones's day job.

As the head of "youth and campus outreach" at the Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying organisation devoted to gay and lesbian issues, she is a professional agitator against the very social values her elder half-brother espouses.

Regardless of whether Newt Gingrich ends up as the GOP contender in November's election, Ms Gingrich-Jones will be working tirelessly to ensure victory for his opponent, Barack Obama.

"No matter who the Republican candidate is, I will do everything I possibly can to ensure they don't win," she says.

"President Obama has done so much for the gay community. From repealing 'Don't ask, don't tell', to getting a hate-crime prevention act passed in 2008, to anti-discrimination policies in the workplace, to laws giving gay couples hospital visitation rights. It would be a disaster if he were to lose."

Newt has failed to utter a word about his sister on the campaign trail so far. But Ms Gingrich-Jones has been less discrete.

Before Christmas, she popped up on the Rachel Maddow programme to formally endorse Obama. And speaking to The Independent last week, she admitted to being deeply upset by his recent pronouncements on gay issues.

Though stressing that their relationship is "respectful", Ms Gingrich-Jones was perturbed by an interview in which Newt said society should "tolerate" homosexuals in the same way that it tolerated alcoholics.

"Does he take these positions because he absolutely believes them?

Or does he have them because he's a Republican running for president?" wonders Ms Gingrich-Jones. "Only Newt knows the answer to that. I honestly don't know if that's what he feels in his heart... Politics, it changes people."

Ms Gingrich-Jones puts Newt's position on the hostile end of an array of GOP candidates she believes are playing the homophobic card in an effort to woo the religious right.

Recent weeks have seen Rick Perry produce an anti-gay campaign video, and Rick Santorum declare that if America were to legalise same-sex marriage then it should also make polygamy legal and allow men to marry farmyard animals.

"Santorum, Rick Perry and my brother are all in the same bit of the spectrum on gay issues," Ms Gingrich-Jones says, adding that if she had to choose a Republican president it would probably be Mitt Romney.

"He supported workplace discrimination protection, when he was governor of Massachusetts. But he won't acknowledge that now."

Ms Gingrich-Jones has never been exactly close to Newt, who at 68 is 23 years older than her, and had left home before she was born.

Their genetic relationship is also complex: the duo share a mother, Kathleen. Ms Gingrich-Jones's father, Robert, was Newt's adoptive (but not biological) father.

As a child growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Ms Gingrich-Jones only occasionally saw Newt, who at the time was a college professor in Georgia, on the first of his three marriages.

"A lot of people see the distance between my brother and me and think it's all ideological; that the reason we don't hang out is because we don't get along," she says.

"But, really, he was gone before I was even born, and I never got to know him."

Ms Gingrich-Jones realised she was gay as a teenager, but her first same-sex relationship had to wait until university.

There she discovered that several fellow members of the women's rugby team (she plays hooker) were openly lesbian.

"Not all lesbians play rugby and not all rugby players are lesbians. But there's a great deal of overlap. And on my college team, I began seeing people that felt what I felt, and were open and fine with that. It was like a piece of my life falling into place."

Ms Gingrich-Jones "came out" in the summer of 1987, when Kathleen discovered a gay newsletter in her bedroom. At the time, Newt was a junior congressman. "I asked what my brother had said about it, and my mother told me that his reply was along the lines of this is my life and I can live it however I want to,'" she recalls.

After university, she settled into an unremarkable job loading trucks for UPS.

But her life changed in 1994, when Newt, a rising Republican star, was elected Speaker.

"Suddenly, the media became interested in our family," she recalls. One day, a reporter came to interview her. "Towards the end of our conversation, she said: 'I have one more question: are you gay?' I didn't have any reason not to tell her, so I said yes."

With that, she became headline news. Reporters began examining Newt's record on gay issues. It turned out to be surprisingly hard-line. "Until then, I had no idea that he'd said some of the things he said."

Shortly afterwards, the Human Rights Campaign rang Ms Gingrich-Jones. Saying she had a "powerful" story that deserved to be shared, they persuaded her to embark on a tour of the US, holding town-hall meetings at which she counselled people who had been abused or discriminated against because of their sexuality.

She later joined the organisation full time, moved to Washington DC, and has been there ever since.

In the glare of publicity that came with the Clinton era, her relationship with Newt became understandably strained. But in recent years, as media attention has waned, it has thawed significantly, she says.

Two catalysts for their rapprochement have been Rebecca, Ms Gingrich-Jones's spouse, whom she met in 2006 through her rugby team, the Washington Furies, and Newt's third wife, Callista, whom he married in 2000.

"Rebecca is strongly family orientated.

To her it was just unacceptable that I would have a blood relative in the same city and we wouldn't do things together.

Callista was very much the same. So in the past five years I have seen my brother more than in the previous 25 years. Callista has changed him, made him far more appreciative of family."

Newt and Ms Gingrich-Jones now get together every Christmas holiday.

On social occasions, Ms Gingrich-Jones and Newt never talk politics. Instead, they find common ground discussing family matters or American Football.

Ms Gingrich-Jones says her brother is no longer the volatile figure of the 1990s, though she does keep hearing commentators wondering: "When is he going to have his big meltdown?"

Because he has publicly remained hostile to gay rights, Newt's relationship with his sister has its limits.

Two years ago, when Ms Gingrich-Jones married Rebecca in Boston, Newt and Callista sent a gift. But they declined an invitation to the event itself, saying they were travelling in Asia.

In future, the limits of his tolerance may be tested further: Ms Gingrich-Jones and Rebecca are planning to become parents, once they have worked out the logistics.

So could a lesbian family one day be house-guests in a Gingrich White House? In this most topsy-turvy of sibling relationships, stranger things have probably happened.

Straight Talkers: Candidates' Views
Newt Gingrich

"I believe that marriage is between a man and woman... and I think this [homosexuality] is a temporary aberration that will dissipate. I think that it just fundamentally goes against everything we know."

Mitt Romney
"...from the very beginning in 1994, I said to the gay community, I do not favour same-sex marriage..."

Rick Perry
"Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me."

Rick Santorum
"[Marriage is] the union that causes children to be born and raised in an environment that's a birthright. When we deny children that birthright by saying other types of relationships are OK, I think we are harming children."